Category Archives: Book Reviews

Manga Review: Barakamon Vol. 15

The contrast between city and rural life has been a source of entertainment since the time of Aesop’s fables. It remains a popular subject in manga and anime today, and joining the ranks of Silver Nina, Non Non Biyori, and Silver Spoon is Yen Press’ series Barakamon. Read on for my review of Volume 15! (For my reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Severely overestimating the villagers’ wealth, Handa-sensei finds himself quite short on students for his calligraphy school upon announcing his exorbitant tuition rate. But as his hopes begin to fade, a savior appears!?

The Review

Handa has settled into the island community for a while now, but the calligraphy school arc has a similar vibe to Barakamon’s early chapters where he was struggling to adjust. This time, however, instead of being the clueless city boy learning how to live in the country, he’s the sheltered artist figuring out how to make a living. Yoshino-sensei makes clear just how sheltered Handa’s been when he discovers his father’s been paying rent for him all this time. When village chief informs Handa that his father now expects him to pay his own rent, the young calligrapher’s stunned speechless. What’s more, Handa doesn’t have even a basic grasp of how a calligraphy school functions as he’s only ever trained at home.

Handa’s definitely not the type of protagonist to figure these kinds of things by his own strength. Unfortunately, the islanders can’t offer much help in his latest endeavor, and he takes on an almost predatory view of his friends as prospective students. (Naru’s comparison of Handa to a sea anemone is quite funny). As such, it’s up to the friend who’s always handled the business aspects of Handa’s calligraphy—namely Kawafuji—to help with the business aspects of starting Handa’s school.

As a result, there are a lot of parallels with earlier chapters as Handa fails to plan ahead, gets overwhelmed to the point of paralysis, and exhibits no practical ability whatsoever to Kawafuji’s frustration. If you enjoy watching Handa’s occasional moments of brilliance amid mostly incompetent behavior, you’ll have a lot to like.

The remaining two chapters are brief holiday-themed stories. The first is Setsubun—Gotou style! As part of this Japanese holiday, children pelt a “demon” with beans, and you can easily guess whom the kids choose as their demon. Then we shift to the middle school for Valentine’s Day. There’s little romance to be had, but quite a few delusional girls.

Extras include bonus manga, translation notes, and another installment of “Barakamon News.”

In Summary

In the early chapters of Barakamon, Handa struggled as a clueless city boy unused to country life. Now he’s struggling again—as a clueless person unused to basic adult responsibilities. And once more it’s up to Kawafuji to do the practical thinking for his sheltered artist friend. If you were hoping for more Kawafuji-style tough love, you’ll get it in this volume.

First published at The Fandom Post.

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Manga Review: Oresama Teacher Vol. #23

Mafuyu is a high school delinquent who wants to turn over a new leaf. So when she transfers schools, she thinks she’ll finally be able to live the life of a normal girl. There’s just one problem: her teacher  Mr. Saeki is a bigger delinquent than she is!

Oresama Teacher is a shojo manga that offers humor of the silly variety. Volume 23 has  been released, and you can read on for the review. (For those who are interested, you can click here for my reviews of earlier volumes).

Back Cover Blurb

It’s Mafuyu’s last year of high school! With Miyabi and most of the delinquents safely graduated, Mafuyu and her friends are looking forward to a peaceful final year. But a mysterious new first-year is up to something sinister, and her schemes quickly take Mr. Saeki out of the picture. Now the fate of the whole school rests on the shoulders of the suddenly advisorless Public Morals Club!

The Review

The lengthy arc between the Public Morals Club and Student Council has ended. However, Mafuyu still has a year remaining in high school, and the outcome of the bet between the Director and Takaomi has yet to be determined. And so, new challenges arise just as the majority of delinquents and former PMC adversaries graduate from Midorigaoka.

The first of the Public Morals Club’s new enemies is Toko Hanabusa, Miyabi’s younger sister. She looks like Miyabi with long hair, and like her brother, she seems to have a secret agenda no one knows about. Oddly enough, Miyabi comes to the PMC’s assistance, providing them with background information about Toko. Those who enjoyed the peculiar dynamics of Hayasaka’s family will likely enjoy the glimpse into the Hanabusa siblings’ upbringing.

While it is a hackneyed move to replace one adversary with his younger sibling, the introduction of Toko does lead to an astonishing development: Takaomi’s resignation. His disappearance results in unexpected laughs as Mafuyu attempts to locate him, but it’s really the first in an avalanche of new circumstances for the PMC. Even as they try to figure out why Takaomi left and whether Toko’s up to anything, they wind up stuck with a new advisor, confronting rumors of Midorigaoka gang activity, and drawing the ire of the Kiyama High students.

It’s a lot to take at once. While you’re getting to know newly hired teacher Mr. Maki, you’re having to recall Kiyama’s contentious history with Midorigaoka from several volumes back. In addition, there are a bunch of rumors and brawls to keep track of. While it’s great that Tsubuki-sensei is launching into the PMC’s next round of adventures, processing all these details is like trying to drink through a fire hose.

Extras include Characters and The Story Thus Far, 4-panel comics, and closing notes.

In Summary

Mafuyu begins her senior year with lots of changes and brand new challenges. Tsubaki-sensei maintains humor throughout the volume, but events stack up quickly one after the other. Between new characters stepping in, the reappearance of ones we haven’t seen in a while, and a complicated mystery for the PMC, it is a fast—and almost overwhelmingly so—start to the series’ next major arc.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Everyone’s Getting Married Vol. 8

Most romances in Viz Media’s Shojo Beat line are targeted toward a high school audience, but Everyone’s Getting Married is actually aimed toward older readers. It’s twenty-something angst instead of teen angst, and you can read on for the review of Volume 8. (For the reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Successful career woman Asuka Takanashi has an old-fashioned dream of getting married and becoming a housewife, but popular TV newscaster Ryu Nanami would rather die than ever get married. Asuka and Ryu start their long-distance relationship, but the difficulties of being apart grow day by day. Will their feelings for each other still be the same when they meet again?

The Review

Ryu’s transfer to America appears to be the ultimate challenge for our lead couple as Miyazono-sensei starts stacking difficulties hard and fast once he’s abroad. Not surprisingly, the trip Asuka’s anticipating at the end of Volume 7 gets canceled due to Ryu’s hectic work schedule, but Asuka also suffers a surprising blow to her career. A higher-up overhears her telling Hiroki she still wants to be a full-time homemaker. The next thing she knows, that higher-up removes her from the management strategy team with well-wishes that she’ll be married soon.

For all intents and purposes, it is a demotion. What makes it worse is that everyone’s congratulating her on the marriage she desperately wants but remains beyond her grasp. In addition, the distance is hard on Asuka, and you can feel her loneliness overflowing from the pages.

Ryu, on the other hand, is doing extremely well in America. Even though he misses Asuka, he has a lot to distract him, and he clearly prioritizes his work over their time together. At one point, Asuka travels to Washington expressly to visit Ryu, and despite the fact that they haven’t seen each other in six months, he ditches her to go to New York on assignment.

It’s clear the situation is hurting Asuka while Ryu isn’t nearly as affected. In fact, you might argue that he has everything the way he wants, considering he refused to let Asuka move to America with him. As such, I’m hardly inclined to cheer their relationship on; rather I want Asuka to dump Ryu and hook up with Kamiya already.

Kamiya, by the way, looks really good in this volume. He is Asuka’s shoulder to cry on when Ryu fails to understand why losing her management team position hurts so much. He’s too much of a gentleman to take advantage of Asuka’s neediness when she turns to him for company. And he’s the one person to call Ryu out on the strain he’s placing on Asuka. While every good romance can use a love triangle for tension, at this point I’m thinking Asuka’s stupid not to snatch Kamiya up.

Extras include the story thus far, two bonus manga, and author’s afterword.

In Summary

Ryu wasn’t looking too good as a boyfriend in Volume 7, and he looks even worse in this volume. While his career is going great, Asuka suffers a setback due to a casual remark about marriage, and the emotional toll of separation makes things worse. It’s the perfect setup for Kamiya to come in and entice Asuka away from his rival. However, because Ryu’s treatment of Asuka is so dismal in comparison, it feels less like a love triangle and more like Kamiya’s stealing the show.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Novel Review: Tempests and Slaughter

Tamora Pierce is the author of several fantasy novels, and I recently had the opportunity to review the first book in her latest series, Tempests and Slaughter. Please read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

Arram Draper is on the path to becoming one of the realm’s most powerful mages. The youngest student in his class at the Imperial University of Carthak, he has a Gift with unlimited potential for greatness–and for attracting trouble. At his side are his two best friends: Varice, a clever girl with an often-overlooked talent, and Ozorne, the “leftover prince” with secret ambitions. Together, these three friends forge a bond that will one day shape kingdoms. And as Ozorne gets closer to the throne and Varice gets closer to Arram’s heart, Arram realizes that one day–soon–he will have to decide where his loyalties truly lie.

The Review

I’ve no previous exposure to Tamora Pierce’s work, but judging from the information on the dust cover, she’s written a number of series set in the Tortall fantasy realm, and Tempests and Slaughter is the first book of another Tortall series. However, Tempests and Slaughter doesn’t provide a particularly engaging introduction to the Tortall realm and falls short as a standalone novel.

At the very beginning of the book is a map of “Tortall and Neighboring Realms,” which displays the kingdom of Tortall smack in the middle. However, the setting for Tempests and Slaughter is the Carthak Empire, which the map doesn’t even show in its entirety. Actually, a map of the University of Carthak would’ve been more helpful because the vast majority of action takes place at the school, and even when characters leave its grounds, they never go far from it.

Our main character is Arram Draper. The dust cover describes him as “a talented young man with a knack for making enemies.” Talented, yes. Knack for making enemies, not really. Basically, he’s a ten-year old genius, and at the university, he’s the mage version of the whiz kid taking college level math while his agemates are still learning fractions. So he encounters occasional classmate bullying because he doesn’t fit in, but he also becomes the pet of every instructor who takes him on (and there are at least eight of them). Plus, he also wins over gladiators, clinic patients, various animals, and two deities, and by the end of the book, he’s been romantically involved with three girls, all of whom pursued HIM. That’s quite the opposite of “a knack for making enemies.”

His two best friends are Varice and Prince Ozorne, who are also prodigies, although not nearly as young or talented as Arram. Ozorne is interesting in that he’s in line for the Carthak throne and must contend with a certain political reality. Varice, on the other hand, is rather bland. Her most distinguishing characteristics are that she’s a gorgeous blonde and likes to cook so she’s always feeding the two boys.

Between the school for magic and the three-friend aspect, Tempests and Slaughter seems a not so subtle attempt at a Harry Potter type of story. Unfortunately, it falls flat. It’s not that the magical elements aren’t fleshed out; Pierce puts in plenty of detail about the workings of Gifts as Arram goes from one teacher to the next. The problem is that there’s no strong plot to carry the novel from a beginning to an end.

The book shows Arram getting an education—and that’s about it. He hasn’t come to the university to fulfill a specific purpose. He doesn’t have to worry about the practical aspects of financing his very expensive education became his instructors arrange for a scholarship plus stipend. (Not to mention, he’s always receiving special gifts from them.) He has no rival he’s competing against. His bully encounters are brief and never escalate to anything serious. He’s not seeking revenge or redemption. He has such amazing talent his teachers come to HIM for help. The threesome never turns to a love triangle, and Arram gets the girl he’s always wanted without even trying.

The story does contain a number of elements with the potential to become the backbone of an arc (i.e. the murdered mage). However, they are simply introduced and not fleshed out. It seems like the purpose of this book is to lay the groundwork for the real conflict that is to come later in the series, but I feel cheated that so little is resolved after 455 pages.

The other issue with this book is that I’m not sure what its intended audience is. Arram is ten at the beginning of the story and can’t be more than fourteen by the end of the novel. I associate that protagonist age range with middle grade readers. However, the content includes graphic gladiator-type violence and a typhoid plague that has Arram puking his guts out as well as various sexual references. These elements I associate with young adult stories. So Tempests and Slaughter creates a weird combination of YA content and a childish mindset. In addition, that childish mindset doesn’t get jaded, despite all the awful things Arran sees and experiences.

In Summary

Existing fans of Tamora Pierce’s fantasy books may feel differently, but as a newcomer to her Tortall fantasy world, I’m not inclined to explore it further after reading Tempests and Slaughter. There’s certainly a lot of magic and magic lessons, but they serve no purpose other than making prodigy Arram an even more advanced student. While some interesting events do arise, they never fully develop into a real plot, and overall, Tempests and Slaughter fails to generate enough anticipation for me to be interested in the series’ next book.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Light Novel Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #01

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 01 of the manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

At the very edge of the front lines stands a young girl. She has golden hair, blue eyes, and pale, almost translucent skin. This girl soars through the skies, mercilessly cutting down her enemies. She barks crisp orders with the unmistakable voice of a child. Her name is Tanya Degruechaff.

But her true identity is that of a 40-year-old Japanese elite salary-man who was forced by god to be reborn in the vessel of a little girl who must live in a tumultuous world racked by war. Concerned with being ultra-efficient and desiring self-promotion above all else, Degurechaff will join the ranks of the Imperial Army’s Military Mages and become one of the most feared existences in this new world…

The Review

The Saga of Tanya the Evil is categorized as a light novel, but it actually makes pretty heavy reading. Anyone who’s familiar with the anime or manga knows the story has a complicated set-up. On top of that complex plot, the novel delves deep into the sci-fi and military aspects, which means readers won’t be breezing through this one.

Our main character is a highly intellectual human resources manager from our modern Japan. However, we meet him just as he suffers an untimely death at the hands of a freshly terminated employee. Upon his demise, he comes face to face with God, who, frustrated by the faithlessness of our main character and humanity as a whole, decides to inspire faith by reincarnating the man—memories intact—as a female in a parallel version of World War I Germany.

The novel’s opening is somewhat difficult to follow. It introduces our main character as his consciousness is transitioning into his reincarnated form Tanya, and then it delves into an overview of the Stanford Prison Experiment before transitioning into social commentary. If I wasn’t already familiar with the Tanya anime and manga, I’m certain I’d have gotten utterly confused.

Compounding the problem of conveying the main character’s complicated circumstances is the writing itself. Dialogue is annoyingly short on tags, so I was often guessing at who said what. Combat scenes rely heavily on dialogue to paint the action, but unless you’re well versed in military jargon, you may have trouble understanding what’s happening. Verb tense constantly shifts between past and present, sometimes within the same scene. There are a lot of POV shifts, which can be disorienting, and our main character simultaneously uses “I” and “Tanya”/ “she” to refer to self. I’m not sure how much of these issues stem from the original Japanese manuscript and how much from the translation process. Either way, it makes for a difficult English text.

However, things are much less problematic if you’re acquainted with the anime or manga and understand from the start that Tanya is a modern salaryman trapped in a child’s body whose ultimate aim is a safe, cushy job. In that case, the value provided by the novel is detailed explanations of key points of the story. For instance, all the Tanya works portray the Type 95 computation orb as an impractical contraption that only works with divine intervention. However, the novel describes at length the scientific/magical theory behind computation orbs, why the Type 95 is both revolutionary and unstable, and its functional value to a mage. Regarding the military aspect, the novel includes maps and diagrams of the unfolding war. We also get a prolonged look at the war room conferences that decide army movements and the discussions among higher-ups that determine Tanya’s military career path. Unlike the manga and anime, there’s less comedy derived by juxtaposing Tanya’s conniving thoughts against those of the people she’s trying to manipulate; what we get instead is a better picture of the personalities within the cast.

One of those personalities is Major von Lergen, seeming the only person in the Imperial Army to question Tanya’s suitability as a soldier (and a human being). At every step of her career, he raises objections, and the novel spells out the reasons he’s so concerned about her rise in the ranks.  I’d hoped for a better rationale from this supposed unbiased Personnel Officer than his gut feeling, and his main criticism of Tanya (the way she objectifies people as resources) is rather hypocritical. After all, the Imperial Army does that all the time as evidenced by the way Tanya gets shoved into her first combat situation at age nine. However, double-standards are certainly common among humans, and the novel seems to be setting von Lergen as an eternal obstacle to Tanya’s goals.

Another aspect detailed in the novel is the impact of the Type 95 computation orb on Tanya’s psyche. As in the anime and manga, it forces her to utter praise to God when in use. However, there’s more to it than just embarrassing instances of worship. In the novel, its side effects include memory lapses and a sense of brainwashing, which makes Tanya doubly resentful of the divine.

Extras include map and fold-out illustration in color; appendixes explaining military strategy and history timeline; author afterword; and six black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

For a light novel, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a pretty hefty book. If you have no familiarity with the Tanya the Evil anime or manga, there’s a high chance you’ll get confused if you read the novel first. However, if you’re already a fan of the series and want to understand more about that world’s geopolitics or mage technology, this book will provide you with an abundance of background information as well as a range of character viewpoints.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Light Novel Review: your name.: Another Side – Earthbound

While there are scores of spectacular animated films, it’s a rare one that attains mainstream success. But in 2016, Makoto Shinkai’s your name. rose to meteoric success and rightfully so. Now for those who can’t get enough of the your name. universe, Yen On presents your name.: Another Side: Earthbound novel.

Back Cover Blurb

This hardcover edition tells the story of the hit novel your name. from the perspective of Mitsuha’s friends and family as they deal with her strange new quirks–and avoid disaster. Featuring side characters Tak, Tessie, Yotsuha, and Toshiki, Mitsuha’s father.

Mitsuha is a young girl living in a rural town named Itomori and is fed up with her life. One day, her family and friends notice she’s suddenly acting strange. Little do they know, a high school boy from Tokyo named Taki Tachibana found himself randomly switching places with her when he fell asleep. But he has no clue how to act as a high school girl in an unfamiliar place!

The Review

your name.: Another Side: Earthbound is not so much a novel as it is a collection of four stories, each from the POV of a different resident of Mitsuha’s hometown Itomori. Earthbound reads very much like fanfiction in that it expands upon details glossed over in the original works and offers alternate perspectives of the story’s events.

Earthbound begins with “Thoughts on Brassieres.” Those who loved the hilarity of Mitsuha and Taki switching bodies will get more of the same with this story, which delves into Taki’s struggle to live as a girl. As you might guess from the title, it’s got a LOT about boobs and bras throughout and, yes, more self-groping from Taki. It also expands upon the movie’s glimpses of Taki (as Mitsuha) playing basketball and confronting classmates talking smack about Mitsuha. In addition to the body-swap comedy, the story also includes Taki’s growing fondness for Itomori and his reflections on the girl whose body he inhabits but whom he’s never actually met.

Next is “Scrap and Build,” where we get the perspective of supporting cast member Tesshi. The movie presents him as Mitsuha’s friend, but this story makes clear that he’s more than a childhood buddy. He, like Mitsuha, has certain responsibilities because of his family’s standing in Itomori, which means he understands her position better than most. So while there’s the comedy of him baffled by Mitsuha’s periodic “fox possession” behavior, he also shows how the pressures within Itomori can lead to a real love-hate relationship with the tiny community. In addition, we learn about the influences that enabled him to help Taki (as Mitsuha) evacuate the townsfolk the day of the disaster.

After that is “Earthbound,” which follows Mitsuha’s little sister Yotsuha. She provides observations of the body swaps from the perspective of a family member and a grade schooler. For some reason, breasts feature largely in this story, which strikes me as odd. It’s one thing for Taki, a teenage boy, to be obsessed and baffled by them, but it feels like a tired old joke when Yotsuha also goes on about them. However, a unique thing in Yotsuha’s narrative is her perspective on Miyamizu Shrine. As a shrine maiden, she shares her sister’s intimacy with its traditions, and that intimacy allows for a surprise encounter with a long forgotten past.

Finally, we have “What You Joined Together,” which dives into the memories of Mitsuha’s father Toshiki. Included in the initial part of the story is a conversation between Toshiki and his future wife Futaba about the purpose and meaning of the Miyamizu rituals. Unless you’re acquainted with Shinto folklore or academic analysis, this dialogue —although it does point to the coming comet strike—is a slog. Fortunately, after this first meeting, the narrative simplifies to that of a man falling in love. For those curious about the Miyamizu family, it provides an extensive look at Mitsuha’s mother, who receives only brief mention in the original works, and the circumstances that estranged Toshiki from his daughters.

By the way, regarding the translation, it flows satisfactorily for the most part. However, there are parts where the formatting (specifically punctuation and italicizing) gets awkward, and a couple sentences seem to be missing a word. In addition, the Itomori residents speak in dialect, but for some reason, Futaba speaks normally for her initial academic conversation with Toshiki and then drops into dialect for the remainder of the story.

Extras include fold-out color illustration, character sketches, and nine black-and-white illustrations.

In summary

This book was written expressly for fans of your name. so if you haven’t seen the movie or read the light novel, do that first. Then if you’re hungry for more details about the town of Itomori, Mitsuha’s family, and the traditions of the Miyamizu Shrine or if you just want to revisit the your name. characters, pick up Another Side: Earthbound. There are bits that do get tiresome, but overall, it balances comedy and drama as well as the original.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sword Art Online: Progressive Vol. 006

Sword Art Online was undoubtedly one of the most popular anime of 2012. Based upon a series of light novels by Reki Kawahara, SAO’s near-future characters, gorgeous fantasy setting, and life-or-death stakes drew an enthusiastic fan following. Yen Press has released Volume 6 of the Sword Art Online: Progressive manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my review of  other Sword Art Online manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

The war between elves rages on, with Kirito and Asuna caught in the middle! The forest elves seek the dark elves’ Secret Key, but to what end? Though Kirito tries to stay detached, Asuna can’t help being swept along for the ride. Kizmel is supposed to be just an NPC, right? But then why does she seem so very human?

The Review

Now that Kirito and Asuna have had their chance to introduce the third floor and interact with the NPCs of the Elf War quest, the other humans return to the stage. Here, the narrative gets complicated. As Kirito explained in the previous volume, players experience the Elf Quest differently depending on their choices, but they still share the same space. Thus, Kirito and Asuna see the reappearance of the forest elf they killed when Lind’s group triggers the quest.

In addition to multiple versions of the quest running simultaneously, we get a glimpse of Heathcliff and other nefarious elements that have nothing to do with the SAO programmed monsters. Also, the first official guilds form, bringing along the beginnings of rivalries. While there is still the urgency to escape SAO, it feels less like a “death game” with players trash-talking each other and getting jealous of Kirito’s partnership with Asuna. One really interesting scene is when the guilds express their desire to recruit Kirito (after all, who wouldn’t want him on their team?). Indeed, Kirito is popular enough to form his own group but chooses to remain solo. This is a significant departure from the anime where Kirito was ostracized and hid his beater status, and in my opinion, Progressive’s version makes much more sense.

However, this volume does have its nonsensical points, usually when it’s trying to lighten the mood. As in previous volume, much is made of Asuna’s smarts, and she even berates Kirito at one point for being dense. However, when they reach the third floor’s main town, she completely forgets the social implications of sharing a room with a guy and blithely checks the two of them into an inn in front of everyone. As for Kirito, there’s fanservice aplenty when he confides a secret plan to Kizmel—while they’re naked in the bathhouse.

Extras include a special bonus manga and illustrations.

In Summary

There’s a lot to keep track of in this volume between the differing versions of the multi-stage Elf Quest and friction between the newly formed guilds. While there’s no boss battle, the simultaneous quest storylines lead to a different kind of clash. The setup for it, however, is complicated because of the various elements being manipulated, and understanding it requires an attentive read.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #01

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 01 of the manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

When the average Japanese salaryman is suddenly thrown into in a world wracked with warfare and hardship by a supernatural power, they might first think to hide or run away. But not Tanya Degurechaff. A calculating and utilitarian man has been reborn as a child soldier. This young girl will do anything to rise in rank and find a way to live a life of comfort, and woe to any king, country, or god who stands in her way.

The Review

Tanya the Evil is difficult to categorize. It’s got magic, World War I style wargames, and politics as well as reincarnation, dark humor, and a kind of existential brawl with divine elements. That sounds like a real mishmash, but amazingly, it works to create a compelling story.

The setting is an alternate World War I Germany, but the main character actually originates from our modern Japan. He’s a highly intelligent, ultra-rational salaryman who knows how to work the system to get what he wants. Unfortunately, he fails to account for the irrationality of emotion, which results in an untimely death. However, despite meeting God upon his demise, he refuses to acknowledge Him as such. So the Creator decides to instill faith in the faithless man by reincarnating him—memories intact—as a female in a war-torn world where everything he’s relied on doesn’t exist.

As such, this first volume of Tanya winds up being a dense read. For those familiar with the anime, the manga provides more details on the strife brewing between the Empire and its neighbors, as well as the rationale for Tanya’s various military assignments. Because Tanya retains her Japanese salaryman memories, she often makes comparisons between her situations and similar examples from our world. For those unversed in world history, explanations of her references are inserted into the narrative, which is very handy for clarification but does slow down the pace.

Interweaving in the midst of the complex setting are two storylines. The first is Tanya’s refusal to acknowledge God—or Being X, as she calls Him. Unlike the anime, where God creepily communicates to Tanya by possessing others, this representation is the Michaelangelo type, albeit one characterized by the worst stereotypes of the Creator. Also, God doesn’t act alone; in this version, there’s a consortium of divine beings at work to change the faithlessness of mankind.

The second storyline is Tanya’s efforts to survive in her new world and attain her goal: a cushy desk job far from the front lines. Considering she’s essentially a conniving adult in a child’s body, she’s got a significant advantage, especially when it comes to combat and military strategy. However, just as when she was a salaryman, she often misreads emotions, and much of the humor comes from the contrast between Tanya’s thoughts and those of the people she’s trying to manipulate.

Regarding illustrations, Tojo-sensei skillfully uses a range of styles to convey the narrative. Crisp maps and diagrams convey a broad view of the military theater. Political interactions between nations are depicted using cartoonish animal mascots. Combat scenes are gory, and Tanya’s crazed looks certainly convey the insanity and desperation of war. However, her frustrated expressions when her efforts to attain a cushy job get stymied are quite funny.

Extras include first four pages in color.

In Summary

If you like simple stories, Tanya the Evil is probably not the best choice. The main character has a complicated backstory, and the World War I-esque setting involves military strategy and politics. However, if you enjoy multifaceted stories and defiant personalities and you can tolerate some graphic violence, Tanya is worth a look.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Manga Review: Everyone’s Getting Married Vol. 7

Most romances in Viz Media’s Shojo Beat line are targeted toward a high school audience, but Everyone’s Getting Married is actually aimed toward older readers. It’s twenty-something angst instead of teen angst, and you can read on for the review of Volume 7. (For the reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Successful career woman Asuka Takanashi has an old-fashioned dream of getting married and becoming a housewife, but popular TV newscaster Ryu Nanami would rather die than ever get married. Asuka and Ryu just moved in together, but at work Ryu is being considered for a transfer to Washington, D.C. Will Ryu accept the offer?

The Review

Ryu and Asuka’s new living situation has Kamiya practically on their doorstep, which might lead to anticipation of fiercer competition between the two rivals. However, the plot takes a different turn. Instead of facing off against Kamiya, Ryu leaves the fight when a promotion sends him to America.

The assignment is supposedly for several years. Asuka immediately offers to quit her job to go with him, and indeed it seems the obvious thing to do considering her dream is to be a full-time homemaker. However, even though Ryu tells her “being with you is my life now,” he insists that she stay in Japan. And Asuka… acquiesces without argument.

Thus we have three chapters of Ryu and Asuka making the most of the time that they have left before Ryu moves. Asuka shoves aside doubt to offer absolute support for Ryu’s decision, which is somewhat unbelievable. Her relationship with Ryu is getting further and further from the marriage she dreams of. She’s already in her mid-20s, and her previous relationship lasted five years and ultimately went nowhere. With a separation of several years looming, it seems improbable that she wouldn’t consider the consequences if she invests all that time into Ryu and things do not work out.

As for Ryu, he’s not so dense to think that Asuka doesn’t need assurance, but the way he goes about it falls flat. The nuances of Japanese engagements went over my head when Ryu takes Asuka to his parents’ home, but when he offhandedly says, “It should be fine if it’s just in spirit,” it sounds like he’s just tossing Asuka a bone. Add to that the cocky way he informs Kamiya about the transfer and declares,” I won’t make her cry,” and I’m really thinking Asuka should dump him.

Thus, career demands once more separate our couple. But not only is Ryu physically away, Asuka’s work promotion causes her to seek advice from Kamiya. Then little brother Kaneda comes over for winter break and starts voicing his disapproval at the situation. Everything’s getting set up for Kamiya to make a grab for Asuka, and unless Ryu drastically changes his time, I’m rooting for Team Kamiya.

Extras include author’s afterword.

In Summary

Work once again separates Ryu and Asuka, this time in the form of a long term assignment in Washington DC. The obvious solution is for Asuka to go with Ryu, but he vetoes that option in favor of a long-distance relationship neither wants. We have the usual date/bedroom moments to illustrate how badly they want to stay together, but Ryu’s minimal concessions to assure Asuka of his commitment paint him as a selfish jerk.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #14

Spice and Wolf is a wildly popular light novel series that has spawned off an anime, an Internet radio show, and a manga series. While its European medieval setting is typical of high fantasy, this series has  a unique bent to it. Rather than swordfights and magic, the plot focuses on economics, trade, and peddling in a way that skillfully blends adventure and romance.

Yen Press has released Volume 14 of the Spice and Wolf manga, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Previously, Lawrence and Holo traveled to the town of Svernel in order to meet with the Myuri Mercenary Company and find out more about Holo’s past companions and her home. But now Lawrence has gotten completely caught up in the political strife of the Debau Trading Company.

It all surrounds the Debau Company’s desire to issue a new currency, with which they have apparent plans to unite the surrounding northern region. For their aim, the Debau Company needs to acquire raw ore and materials but this has caused their opponents to increase their own efforts to foil this plan. In the middle of all this, Lawrence is trusted with delivering a forbidden text detailing the necessary mining techniques to the trading company’s executive, Hilde Schnau but will it really go so smoothly?

The Review

At the end of Volume 13, merchant and wolf looked bound for a happy ending, and as Volume 14 opens, that tidy conclusion seems a done deal when Lawrence figures out the motivation behind the Debau Company’s actions. The company’s plans to create an empire in the Northlands through the power of trade are far and beyond anything a small-time merchant like Lawrence imagined possible. However, he recognizes the opportunity approaching and positions himself to have the store of his dreams and live happily ever after with Holo.

But just when everything seems perfect, a new character arrives to throw Lawrence’s plans into disarray. Hilde Schnau, the Treasurer of the Debau Company, makes his first appearance, but just as Lawrence and Holo have been observing the Debau Company’s activities, Hilde has been observing theirs. And he knows more about them than most because he is a being similar to Holo. Similar… but not alike. Watching Hilde interact with Holo and Lawrence keeps bringing to mind a certain scene from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. Because despite his cute appearance, he wields considerable power.

While it is a bit strange to watch a rabbit manipulate a wolf to do his bidding, it effectively drags the two travelers into an internal battle within the Debau Company. Thus the story zooms out from Holo and Lawrence’s intimate plans to the factions struggling within an economic giant. As it turns out, the forbidden book of mining techniques is key, but not in the way Holo and Lawrence thought. Once more, our heroes get swept into an affair much larger than themselves, and Holo especially must consider the future ramifications of the choices before her. And while mercenaries take arms and Holo makes use of her true form, Hilde does a wonderful job showing how well-placed words and pieces of paper can shape the outcome of a regional conflict.

Extras include title illustration in color and afterword.

In Summary

Just when the series looks about to conclude happily for Lawrence and Holo, a new character appears to throw everything into chaos. Wolf and merchant once more wind up entangled in a scheme—one that not only involves trade but armies of mercenaries and the fate of the entire Northlands. While the plots and counterplots within the Debau Company are a bit complicated, the interplay of economics, military, and supernatural might makes for a gripping narrative.

First published at the Fandom Post.